Introductory Note:

In my quest to locate Spiritual Writers of the African American tradition, Dr. Virgil Wood (comrade and scholar of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) introduced me to the writings of Dr. Howard Thurman. Howard Thurman was Dean Emeritus of Marsh Chapel, Boston University, Honorary Canon of the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, New York City, and Founder of Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples in San Francisco, the first interracial, interdenominational church in the United States. Howard Thurman was a spiritual friend to Martin Luther King Jr., and he was considered a “Social Mystic.” (Dr. Alton Pollard has defined social mysticism as “an activist form of mysticism, compelled by the dictates of spiritual experience, that defies social conventions and engenders social change.”)

Dr. Thurman’s writing, published by Harper Row in 1961, speaks as if written just yesterday. Originally written as a meditation for the weekly Bulletin of Marsh Chapel, here he speaks on peace.

Juanita Campbell Rasmus

In the Fore­word to his book The Inward Jour­ney, Dr. Thur­man writes:

There are not many win­dows in these med­i­ta­tions; they are as the title indi­cates, an Inward Jour­ney. It may be that if there were more illus­tra­tions, the mean­ing could be more quick­ly grasped. The choice here is delib­er­ate. It is my hope that they will make read­ing and reread­ing reward­ing and sus­tain­ing. The pur­pose remains ever the same: to focus the mind and heart upon God as the Eter­nal Source and Goal of Life. To find Him as Com­pan­ion and Pres­ence is to do just­ly, and to love mer­cy, and to walk humbly” with Him.

Lord, make me an instru­ment of Thy Peace.” These words, tak­en from the prayer of St. Fran­cis, speak to one of the most insis­tent con­di­tions of the human spir­it. It is not easy to be an instru­ment of peace because we under­stand so lit­tle about the anato­my of hos­til­i­ty and its par­tic­u­lar kind of eti­quette. Again and again we use our words to pro­tect our­selves, to put oth­ers in their place,” to humil­i­ate and to wound; some­times, quite uncon­scious­ly. Have you ever been caught in the back­wash of your words which hit their mark, result­ing in an injury which was not part of your intent? All of this because you were too pre­oc­cu­pied with your own inter­ests, your own con­cerns to take into account the oth­er per­son? At such a moment your good word may eas­i­ly become an instru­ment of violence. 

Ask your­self, Have I ever indulged in gos­sip which gave me an oppor­tu­ni­ty to say some­thing unchar­i­ta­ble about some­one else? Of course, if I had not heard the gos­sip and passed it on, then there would have been no chance for me to express my qui­et hos­til­i­ty and, at the same time, be relieved of the respon­si­bil­i­ty for it. When I par­tic­i­pate in the shared rumors and the gos­sip around me by pass­ing them on or by refrain­ing from stop­ping them with what I know to be the facts and the truth, I let my atti­tude and my influ­ence become instru­ments of vio­lence in my hands.” 

I offer my prayer to God: 

Lord, make me an instru­ment of Thy Peace.” Teach me how to order my days that with sure touch I may say the right word at the right time and in the right way — lest I betray the spir­it of peace. Let me not be deceived by my own inse­cu­ri­ty and weak­ness which would make me hurt anoth­er as I try des­per­ate­ly to help myself. Keep watch with me, O my Father, over the days of my life, that with abid­ing enthu­si­asm I may be in such pos­ses­sion of myself that each day I may offer to Thee the full, unham­pered use of me in all my parts as an instru­ment of Thy Peace.” Amen.

The Inward Jour­ney: Med­i­ta­tions on the Spir­i­tu­al Quest by Howard Thur­man (Harp­er Row, 1961), p.104.

Text First Published December 1960

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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